Change licensing law

IS the Urban Council Liquor Licensing Board's function to control the sale of alcohol or to prevent it; to discourage dubious businesses or bankrupt legitimate ones? Judging by its behaviour this week, the answer seems to be the latter.

Thanks to the snail-like operations of the licensing board, a bar must wait up to six months for an application to be approved or - as five bar owners have discovered to their dismay - be turned down.

How can a business which calculates its potential profitability on the ability to sell alcohol conceivably cover costs as a purveyor of soft drinks? How can it establish its reputation as a fashionable new venue when the clientele it hopes to attract expects something more than tea and sympathy? Any bar or restaurant owner knows that a large part of the funds to pay overheads and high rents will come from bar and not food sales. As a result, otherwise law-abiding citizens are forced to break the law while they wait for licensing approval. It is aCatch-22. If caught, serving liquor in unlicensed premises is grounds for refusal of an application for a licence.

It is time for a change in the licensing laws. The Board should be given the powers to issue temporary licences immediately after an initial inspection satisfies board members that the applicant meets basic criteria of suitability.

The issue of a temporary licence must not be an invitation for lax policing of underage drinking or other offences. However, the Urban Council should not be in the business of forcing bar owners to break the law.